9 Jul 2012

Sex and Vibrators

I'm going to bet a lot of money that this article gets the most hits on my blog.  The current leader is “Lingerie low-down” (see a few posts below).  Either all my facebook friends and twitter followers are underwear addicts, or maybe it’s because you couldn’t wait to read about my lingerie collection.  Or maybe, just maybe, the word ‘lingerie’ made you think of sex.  Sex may be a bit of a taboo subject but it’s certainly out there, scribbled across tabloids and neatly working itself into every television show known to man.  And that’s not even mentioning page 3, or sex shops.  Let’s put it this way: people don’t go shopping in Ann Summers just for the panties…in fact, one of my all-time favourite purchases was for a male friend of mine in that very shop.  And it shall forever be known as “the willy whistle”.  On the subject of whistles, a few months ago Flo Rida brought out a hit single entitled “Whistle”.  As much as I’d love to believe that he’s talking about the sort of whistle you’d find attached to your life jacket when your Ryan Air flight to Barcelona miraculously lands head on into the Indian Ocean (satnav issues, ahem), I think it’s safe to say that we’ve hit euphemism city here.  So you see my point.  There’s really no hiding from it.

Now I’m not trying to be obscene.  I’m just trying to work out what draws people to themes of a certain nature.  Apparently sex sells.  Well, that’s what Rihanna seemed to think when she released S&M.  Can I not even exercise at the gym without being plagued by music videos filled with female dancers thrusting their body parts along to the lines “chains and whips excite me”?  Apparently not.  And what’s even worse is when you realise your 12 year old sister knows all the words.  Backwards.  Kids are taught from a young age that there’s clearly a lot more to sex than what you learn in GCSE Biology.  Films certified as 15 are now being watched by 9 year olds.  But covering a child’s eyes with a pillow isn’t going to blank out the noise.

There’s something innately human about clicking on a link which looks a little dirty.  Is it because we feel that little bit guilty and know we shouldn’t, or is it because of an unprecedented urge to know as much as possible about sex?  After all, who wants to read articles about the weather?  Topics like fashion and cars only appeal to a certain palette while sex is a global phenomenon (much like Harry Potter) which you don’t even have to partake in to be aware of.  Ok, that was a bit cheeky comparing sex to Harry Potter when we both know they’re entirely different.  But in the words of Jane Austen, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that sex is great.  *I may have just misquoted.  Well that’s what we’re taught to believe, right?

Cuisines change from country to country, along with fashions, education and religion.  But kids are only made one way.  Maybe the French fornicate differently from the English, but they’re obviously doing something similar if they’re both pumping out litters and making baby showers.  I mean…I haven’t read much around the subject, but I don’t tend to hear stories about English girls ending up in Australia and having the shock of a life-time when they find out that they do it upside down.  It may be nicknamed “the outback” but I think we can safely assume that the Ozzies do it up front too.  Sorry to be crass.

But how is it that sex is such an uncomfortable dinner-table discussion?  People start cringing at the mention of orgasms, vibrators and contraception.  Food turns cold as blushing wives play with their food instead of eating it, unknowingly telling the rest of the table that they’re sexually frustrated.  (I’m not even sure if I believe that theory).  People describe sex as “personal” and “intimate”; so personal that they’re more than happy to read about other people’s private escapades in the news?  Some even sell their sex stories for money.  It seems nowadays that magazines use sex as a marketing tool with the three-letter word always managing to find pride of place on advice columns.  The days of asking about periods and dieting are disappearing.  Today’s generation wants to know about sex.

At lunch yesterday with my grandparents, the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” came up in conversation.  I’ve been told that the book is “highly pornographic” and “badly written”.  I can’t work out whether this makes me want to read it or not.  This new adult genre (known simply as “literotica”) is starting to become the genre of the decade.  People want to read about sex.  They want to compare it, be repulsed by it, be amused by it, and learn from it.  But you want to know the hypocrisy of it all?  They can’t stand the idea of other people knowing they’re reading it.  Literotica’s rise in sales can be linked to two things: Kindles and the basic need to touch what is off-limits.  The feminist writer Marina Warner considers the popularity of erotic fiction to be a signal of the struggle to feel aroused in a time when sex and nudity have become so commonplace.  “There has been a general unveiling of the body in our culture and there is a connection between prohibition and arousal,” she said.  Who wants unlimited amounts of vanilla ice-cream when there’s one last scoop of honeycomb?  Gone are the days of hiding porn mags under your bed and tightly gripping explicit book covers to hide them from your peers.  Download them onto your Kindle and the people around you are none the wiser.  The NY Times even reported that Ann Summers has seen a huge increase in the sale of blindfolds, whips and handcuffs, reflecting the strong sadism and masochism theme running through the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy.  There’s no point denying erotic literature’s escalating fame.  With a 130% increase in sales, the figure says it all.

La marque Ann Summers, sex-shop, joue sur ces sacs de façon détonnante !!I for one will admit hand on heart that I have never watched (or read for that matter) porn.  In fact, I’m exactly the sort of person who you’d hate to play the drinking game “Never have I ever” with.  One of my girlfriends was so unsatisfied with my naivety in this area that she was adamant that we spend the evening watching it on the flat screen.  I politely declined.  I’ll admit however that my much-loved Sex and the City is definitely bordering on pornographic.  Using neck massagers as vibrators?  Who would have thought?

All in all, how much is sex shaped by what we watch on our screens or read in books?  Do we over consume the notion of being sexually complete, sexually compatible or sexually accurate?  It seems nowadays that “sex” has been so overly sexualised that it’s fundamentally become a subgenre of its former self.

Watch this space.



  1. Some interesting questions; definitely wasn't aware of Ann Summers' huge sales increase in certain fetish items.

    I think one of the larger questions, though, can easily be addressed by basic urges. Certainly in terms of internet links, there isn't a huge amount of evidence to suggest any level of guilt amongst the majority of users. Rather, it's simply because people want such things and the anonymity of the internet provides without fear of reprisal, embarrassment, etc. Desire for porn makes up about 25-30% of all internet searches per day (so Google, Bing etc.) which doesn't of course take into account the proportion of URLs such as youporn.com etc. actively entered - so already we see that a large number of the billions of people using the web per day are *actively* seeking out porn.

    Links to sexual content, meanwhile, are largely quite well-marshalled, so when we see certain sites making the top 100 highest hit rates in the world, it's definitely not by accident.

    I'd also generally say that sex selling isn't an entirely recent thing, and the concept of sex hasn't been particularly taboo for half a century unless you're some sort of fundamentalist, but there's definitely something interesting about the rise in S&M and other more idiosyncratic practices on the public sphere - probably has something to do with, again, the acceptability of it all as propagated by the internet. I forget who I was reading recently who wrote a detailed essay on this in relation to the (utterly terrifying) network Kink.com. But it was interesting.

    In conclusion, SEX. Yes. That's right.


    1. c.b. (I know who you are): I feel like I've been pouncing on the territory of a man who just got a 1st on a dissertation about pornography! haha. But yes, I agree with you about the whole basic urges thing but I suppose my blog posts tend to be speaking on behalf of myself rather than the cyber-sex public. Woops. I know sex selling isn't wholly "recent" but I guess it depends what we'd define "recent" as. I know I was talking a lot about the past decade but I would definitely argue that sex (and everything that goes along with it) continues to be shaped by culture. Hence our perceptions of sex and the way in which we approach it have been modified significantly, rather than come into being.


    2. Totes! Yeah, would definitely agree with the last point. ... Also, am ashamed that academic discussions are continuing into summer. I found this too interesting to leave alone. I'm sorry!!!

  2. Sorry, also:

    The thing about women craving 'more' in the realms of filthy literature could, increasingly at least, be something to do with desensitisation but the more likely explanation is actually neurological: men (or at least brains more masculine-wired) are turned on by images and explicit, base things; women (or more feminine brains) by scenarios, words and description. It's an interesting thing they discovered a few years ago after the development of viagra - men can use the drug because their libidos are entirely disconnected from the brain, so artificial stimuli can literally turn them on without having to think about it, but they still haven't found a female viagra because the buttons they have to push are in the more abstract corners of the brain, not the crotch (which, y'know, we can literally push).

    That's why it's mostly men that download porn pics/videos, and respond better to dirty mags and flagrantly sexualised advertising while women go out and buy up all the copies of 'Fifty Shades... '. In general terms, anyway - like I say, it's all in individual brain-wiring, but it's been slowly proven over time that there's only a very small market for hardcore porn marketed towards straight women (apart from certain feminist heroes from about the '80s on... most of which don't have much internet exposure. I guess it's a supply and demand issue?)